Zimbabwe - Overview of Women's Work, Minimum Wages and Employment

An Overview of Women’s Work and Employment in Zimbabwe. Minimum wage, wages, labour employment, unemployment, women employment, working conditions, Labour market structure, Legislation, Labour relations, Literacy, Literacy and skill levels of female labour, etc...

Decisions for Life MDG3 Project Country Report No. 7

University of Amsterdam /Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Labour Studies (AIAS)
Maarten van Klaveren, Kea Tijdens, Melanie Hughie-Williams, Nuria Ramos Martin
email: m.vanklaveren@uva.nl
Amsterdam, Netherlands, May 2010


This report provides information on Zimbabwe on behalf of the implementation of the DECISIONS FOR LIFE project in that country. The DECISIONS FOR LIFE project aims to raise awareness amongst young female workers about their employment opportunities and career possibilities, family building and the work-family balance. This report is part of the Inventories, to be made by the University of Amsterdam, for all 14 countries involved. It focuses on a gender analysis of work and employment.

History (2.1.1). After independence in 1980, initially the government invested in education and health. Soon, tensions between ZANU and ZAPU led to violence, ending by the formation of ZANU-PF, led by Robert Mugabe. His government growingly took refuge to violation of human and trade union rights. The creation of MDC as an opposition party, in 1999, was obviously a catalyst for the country’s most violent decade in which Mugabe and his cronies tried to retain power by all means. As a result, large parts of the economy have been destroyed and repeatedly a majority of the population of the once prosperous country has to rely on food aid. In 2008, a Global Political Agreement has been reached, which since 2009 is implemented by a government of national unity (GNU).

Governance (2.1.2). Zimbabwe is a republic. In 2009 militia and “war veterans” trained by ZANU-PF continued to harass and intimidate members of the opposition, trade unions, and others. Corruption is widespread. Female participation in politics is low but growing. The life of rural women is dominated by traditional practices, which grant very few rights to women. There is no specific legislation against domestic violence. Women encounter significant discrimination in ownership rights.

Prospects (2.1.3). The 2009-10 economic recovery remains fragile and depends on the containment of political violence. It can be questioned whether the GNU is able to protect in particular ZCTU trade unionists adequately, though there are hopeful signs as well.

Communication (2.2). The number of cell phones in use has grown to 138 per 1,000 of the population in 2008. By that year, there were 119 Internet users per 1,000. Freedom of speech and of press remain limited, though in May 2010 some openings were visible. As the Internet has remained unrestricted, many Zimbabweans use to this medium to access independent news.

The sectoral labour market structure – Formal and informal employment (2.3.1). With an economy in disarray, reliable labour market statistics are lacking. Formal employment likely has decreased between 1999-2009 from 1.3 to 0.6 million. 80-94% of the working age population may have only work from which they derive an income for a few hours per day or even per week.

The sectoral labour market structure – Migration (2.3.2). Recently about four million Zimbabweans are estimated to live abroad with the majority leaving in the past 5-6 years, mainly in search of basic food and health care. Many migrated to South Africa, among which 40-50% women. They are highly vulnerable to exploitation.

Legislation (2.4.1). Zimbabwe has ratified the eight core ILO Labour Conventions. Yet, an ILO Commission of Inquiry in 2009 concluded to systematic, and even systemic, violation of the Conventions. Mechanisms for organising legal strikes are extremely complicated.

Labour relations and wage-setting (2.4.2). In spite of continuous harassment and intimidation of officers and members, the ZCTU organises over 40% of the formal employed. 70% of the about 3 million-strong workforce of the informal sector is member of the ZCIEA, created by the ZCTU.

The statutory minimum wage (2.5.1). In November 2009 there were 28 sectoral minimum wages, varying from USD 30 to 391 per month. All remained below the official poverty line of USD 552 in 2009.

Poverty (2.5.2). After independence poverty first diminished, but from the early 1990s on rose till in the 2000s over 80% lived below the national poverty threshold as well as below the international USD 2 per day poverty line. Poverty has been concentrated in the rural areas and has been feminized. Recent estimates conclude to more than 85% living below the national poverty line, meaning that 10 million or more Zimbabweans live in desperate poverty. In the course of the 2000s, large parts of the population had to take refuge to remittances from migrants.

Population and fertility (2.6.1). From 2002-2008, due to both the HIV/AIDS pandemic and migration population has decreased slowly, a decrease most likely speeding up in 2009 and early 2010. The total fertility rate is about 3.7 children per woman. The adolescent fertility rate is with 101 per 1,000 rather high; early marriage is widespread. With on average 45 years (44 years for women), life expectancy at birth is one of the world’s lowest.

Health (2.6.2). In 2007 there were an estimated 1.2-1.4 million suffering from HIV/AIDS in Zimbabwe. Since 2001 there is a downward trend in the HIV prevalence rate due to a combination of high mortality and changes in sexual behaviour. The country has over 1.3 million orphans of which one million orphaned by AIDS. AIDS-related illness and death are acutely threatening the viability of many households. In the last decade the health infrastructure has collapsed, and the vulnerability for epidemics like cholera increased.

Women’s labour market share (2.6.3). Around 2000, women made up nearly half of the country’s labour force, with majorities in agriculture, services and government. Among paid employees the female shares were much lower. These shares were also comparatively low in the higher-ranked and administrative occupations.

Literacy (2.7.1). The adult literacy rate –-those age 15 and over that can read and write—in 1999-2006 was 90.7%: 93.7% for men and 87.6% for women. In 2007 the literacy rate for 15-24-year-olds stood at 98.3%: 97.9% for young men and an even higher 98.7% for young women.

Education of girls (2.7.2). Though in the early 2000s enrollment in education was rather high, enrollment rates at all levels have fallen considerably due to internal displacement, emigration of teachers, and sheer poverty. Girls are more likely than boys to leave or not begin school. Most recemtly access to
public education seems to improve.

Female skill levels (2.7.3). A rough indication is that about 60% of women in the current labour force may be called unskilled, 37.5% skilled and 2.5% highly skilled.

We estimate the current size of the target group of DECISIONS FOR LIFE for Zimbabwe at about 35,000 girls and young women 15-29 of age working in urban areas in commercial services. If the country’s recovery takes off rather succesfully, another 60-70,000 may be added in the next five years.

Wages (2.8.1). Older wage data suggests a rather large wage dispersion across industries, with low wage rates for occupations with a high share of women, pointing at a considerable gender pay gap.

Working conditions (2.8.2). Older data indicates small gender differences in hours worked, with on average long hours for paid employees. Most likely current overall patterns are more like those of the self-employed, working shorter and irregular hours.


  • Download the complete report: 

     'An Overview of Women’s Work and Employment in Zimbabwe' (pdf, 395kb).